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UK managers’ conceptions of
employee training and
Almuth McDowall
Psychology Department, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK, and

Mark N.K. Saunders
School of Management, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK

Conceptions of
training and
Received 18 January 2010
Revised 7 April 2010
Accepted 26 April 2010

Purpose – The first purpose of this paper is to review the practical and theoretical distinctions
between training and development in the organisational psychology and human resource development
(HRD) literatures. Then the paper seeks to investigate how managers responsible for the training and
development function conceptualise these activities in practice, the factors that guide their decision
making, how they evaluate the outcomes and the extent to which they perceive a relationship between
training and development.
Design/methodology/approach – Taking a critical realist perspective, 26 interviews were
conducted with UK managers and analysed through thematic coding using template analysis.
Findings – Managers’ conceptualisations of training and development vary. Formal training is
prioritised due to a perceived more tangible demonstrable return on investment. Perceived success in
training focuses on improvements to job-related skills, whereas success outcomes for development are
more varied and difficult to measure. Managers consider that training and development are more
valuable when combined.
Research limitations/implications – There is a need for further process-driven research to
understand the interrelationship between training and development and to develop methods that can
be used by organisations to evaluate both. This necessitates going beyond methods currently in use
and including both qualitative and quantitative measures.
Practical implications – Managers may take a more proactive and directive role in facilitating
development than the literature suggests; consequently, their role needs to be considered more actively
in HRD learning strategies.
Originality/value – This is one of the first qualitative studies to explore the conceptualisations of
managers responsible for training and development, highlighting the inter-relationship between
training and development and the factors guiding decisions regarding these activities.
Keywords Training, Individual development, Managers, Decision making, Training evaluation
Paper type Research paper

There has long been a belief that investment in employee training and development
has benefits for the organisation and for its workforce (Salas and Cannon-Bowers,
2001; Sloman, 2003), some form of training being offered by nearly all organisations
(Cannell, 2004). However, with the move from traditional formal training activities to
ongoing and future-oriented development there has been a shift in how such activities
are used (e.g. Maurer et al., 2003). A continuously changing work environment has
made cyclical training necessary (Buckley and Caple, 2007), on-the-job training being

Journal of European Industrial
Vol. 34 No. 7, 2010
pp. 609-630
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/03090591011070752



considered most effective, only a fifth of UK managers believing that formal courses
are the most effective method (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development,
2007). Self-initiated training and development, initiated by the learner, has also
increased in importance, particularly in the context of so-called “new” or
“boundaryless” careers (Arthur and Rousseau, 1996) characterised by greater
mobility and flexibility. In-house development programmes are offered by 60 per cent
of UK organisations (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2007). The
same research showed that one in six organisations has introduced programmes
specifically aimed at developing the role of the line manager, which demonstrates their
crucial role in this context. For this reason, managers with responsibility for these
activities are the focus of the present research as they act as gatekeepers to training
and development in many organisations, thereby playing a pivotal role in decisions
regarding such activities.
The aims of our paper are thus twofold:
(1) to review and provide clarity on both the practical and theoretical distinctions
between training and development drawing from the organisational
psychological and HRD literatures; and
(2) to investigate how managers conceptualise these activities in practice, the
factors that guide their decision making, how they evaluate the outcomes of
these activities, and the extent they perceive a relationship between training
and development.
Differences between training and development
Not all writers agree regarding the overall aim or the potential differences between
training and development. Antonacopolou (2001) conceptualises training as an
organisational activity, which also comprises development, contrasting this with
learning as an individual activity, thereby making a distinction between organisational
and individual learning. However, we argue that we need to make a more finely
grained distinction. Training and development are in format and purpose distinct
activities, for instance Warr (2002, p. 154) argues that “job-specific training seeks to
improve effectiveness in a current job role, whereas development activities take a
longer-term perspective and may extend into career planning and reviews of personal
progress”. Such distinctions are also apparent in the North American literature. Laird
(1985, p. 11) writes that training “permits employees to perform to a standard whilst
development on the other hand refers to ongoing, long-term intervention to prepare
people and groups for futures”, whilst Maurer et al. (2002b) distinguish development
activity by locating the onus for development firmly with the employees themselves,
but considering different beneficiaries. Thus, within the literature training and
development appear different (Table I). Practical differences emphasise how training is
a focused and time-framed activity with clear organisational focus whilst development
is open-ended and long-term; the role of managerial support being important for each
activity. Evidence from a practitioner context (Chartered Institute of Personnel and
Development, 2007) emphasises that 52 per cent of respondents see the manager as
“very important” for supporting learning for both training and development activities,
a finding also echoed in the academic literature particularly in terms of participation in
development activities (Birdi et al., 1997). However, it is less evident how decisions are
made regarding which of these activities to support. Examples of training tend to

Practical differences
Overall aim
Time span

Role of manager


Aim is to improve longer-term
effectiveness, personal element,
typically initiated by individual
General individual progress,
professionally and personally
Future-directed, long-term, usually
career-related; can be aligned with
organisational objectives
Can vary greatly in length, style of Should be ongoing; even one-off
delivery and content; traditionally events such as development centres
should be linked in with overall
often delivered as classroom-type
instruction which is “stand-alone” development strategy
and “one-off”
Managerial support is also crucial
Manager very important for
in the literature on participation
supporting learning from both
training and developmental
activities in organisations
Skills-based training (e.g. mastering Diverse range of activities which
new manufacturing tool), customer- can be formal or informal taking
place on the job or off the job
service training, professional
training, open learning; can take
place on or off the job
Aim is to improve effectiveness in
current role, typically seen as
provided by the organisation
Performance of the task or specific
job role
Job-specific fixed-term orientation

Theoretical and conceptual differences
Theoretical underpinning Rooted in learning theory and
cognitive psychology,
acknowledging interplay between
individual characteristics and
organisational requirements.
Research on training evaluation and
effectiveness, in particular factors
that may impact on motivation
Learning through instruction and
skill acquisition
Individual differences and Research centres on training
motivation; this construct
encompassing a number of
malleable variables such as selfefficacy



Conceptions of
training and

Diverse roots, from management
development and organisational
strategy. Ranges from managerial
competence to models of factors
influencing participants

Learning through feedback and selfreflection
Individual differences have been
considered explicitly in models
explaining participation in
development activities which are
rooted in social psychological
constructs such as social exchange
theory and theory of planned
Relational contract; job for life, onus Transactional contract; onus rests
on employees to acquire
rests on employer to train their
workforce. Predictivist perspective transferable skills for multiple
careers. Constructivist perspective
focusing on person-job fit
focusing on person-organisation
and person-team as well as personjob fit

Table I.
Training and
development in contrast


Projected outcomes



Table I.


Increased self-awareness and
learning, growing impetus to take
charge of personal and professional
development, increased
“marketability” to current and
future employer; diverse measures
used such as promotions, number of
training days engaged in, level of
agreement between ratings, staff
Equivocal evidence, as research
Consistent evidence that well
delivered training courses result in frameworks and criteria vary
improvement of task performance, between studies; as development
appears to refer to a wide range of
and that motivation predicts

Enhanced skills at the individual
level and organisational benefits;
should result in measurable
improvement in workplace
performance measures

comprise formal activities that usually entail a specific skill building element
(Goldstein and Gilliam, 1994), whereas development comprises a very broad range of
activities, which can be formal or informal (McDowall and Mabey, 2008), may or may
not entail an explicit career-relevant element, and may or may not be formally planned
and agreed (Rowold and Kauffeld, 2009).
Approaches to training tend to be grounded in the training cycle. Developed from
learning theory and cognitive psychology, these acknowledge the interplay between
individual characteristics (Goldstein, 1993), focussing upon training effectiveness (e.g.
Kraiger et al., 1993) and factors impacting upon motivation (Colquitt et al., 2000). Warr
(2002, p. 154) states that “Learning [from training] may be viewed as cognitive and
physical activity giving rise to a relatively permanent change in knowledge, skill or
attitude”; such outcomes have been documented in a wealth of studies (Kraiger et al.,
1993) and several meta-analyses (Arthur et al., 2003). Consequently research has often
concentrated on individuals’ motivation for training and the impact of a range of
variables such as self-efficacy (Colquitt et al., 2000).
In contrast there is far less research, particularly in psychology, regarding employee
development (Maurer et al., 2002a) and less consensus on definitions and a theoretical
basis. The theoretical roots for development are equally widely spread. Several of these
are positioned at the organisational level; examples are human resource development
orientated approaches (Thomson et al., 1998), the learning organisation (Senge, 2006) or
human capital theory (Davenport, 1999), a commonality between these models being
that outcomes are often concerned with the enhancement of performance. Other
development approaches consider individual differences and motivation such as
theories of managerial competence (Boyatzis, 1982, 2008), the effects of feedback (Ilgen
et al., 1979; Kluger and DeNisi, 1996) and factors influencing participation in
development activities (Maurer et al., 2002b, 2003; Maurer and Tarulli, 1994).
With regard to learning arising from any such activity, it is implicit across these
theories that individuals will develop more effectively if they are cognisant of their
strengths and weaknesses, and thus take responsibility for changing their behaviour if
supported by appropriate development activities. Unlike for training, where learning is

characterised as occurring through instruction and skill acquisition (Goldstein and
Gilliam, 1994), learning through development is characterised by reflection. To
illustrate, Argyris and Scho¨n (1978) argue that individuals need to examine their
implicit theories (theories-in-use) in comparison to espoused theories (how they want to
be seen to be acting by others). The better the fit between the two theories, the greater
their effectiveness, reflection being integral to achieving this fit. In order for such
self-reflection to take place, employees need insight into their respective strengths and
weaknesses and to be able to see themselves in the same way as others do. Such
self-awareness has been demonstrated to predict performance (Atwater and
Yammarino, 1992).
At this point we note that the psychological distinction between both the processes of
training and development, and learning, the latter of which can be conceptualised as an
outcome (Warr, 2002), differs from much contemporary management literature. This
considers development as synonymous with learning (e.g. Sadler-Smith, 2005; Harrison,
2005). Notwithstanding this, learning from each type of activity might broadly be argued
to be contingent on differing employee-employer relationships (Horner and Jones, 2003).
Training is associated commonly with relational aspects of the psychological contract
(Rousseau, 1995), which infer stable and open-ended employment within a predictivist
perspective centring on the prediction of job related performance, within a very
quantitative paradigm (Cook, 2009). Within this, the onus rests with the manager to
match people to jobs and then to train their workforce, facilitating skill acquisition and
linear career growth. In contrast, development is more commonly associated with
transactional contracts (Rousseau, 1995) and a constructivist perspective, where the onus
is on the employee to take responsibility for developing multiple careers and engaging in
life-long learning (Senge, 2006; Hall and Mirvis, 1995).
These differences offer challenges for evaluating training and development
outcomes. Training lends itself to experimental designs to assess projected outcomes,
often based upon Kirkpatrick’s (1959) model of training evaluation or derivatives, that
demonstrate effectiveness at several levels such as increased learning, increased
motivation and enhanced attitudes (Tannenbaum et al., 1991). Despite criticism in the
literature (Skinner, 2004), such evaluation models are popular with managers (Tamkin
et al., 2002) due to their summative and outcome focused orientation (Brown and
Gerhard, 2002). Phillips’s (2003) return on investment model expands on Kirkpatrick
through a proposed framework for measuring return on investment using primarily
quantitative methods, noting the relative reluctance of organisations to evaluate
development in comparison to training.
Ongoing development activities are less suited to such experimental evaluation.
Development is by nature pervasive, overlapping and ongoing, making it more difficult
to divide up relevant activities into discrete variables (Warr, 2002). The notion that
development should be self-led implies it is a personal issue. Consequently what
constitutes successful development for one person might not represent success for
another. Whereas some employees might wish to stay in their existing job and find
satisfaction through the enhancement of their job specific skills, others define
successful development as promotion and increased pay. Thus, prevalent outcome
measures have been general and posited at the organisational level, such as the number
of training days attended by managers (Thomson et al., 1998), promotions (Jones and
Whitmore, 1995) or staff retention (Naish and Birdi, 2001). These issues highlight a

Conceptions of
training and



need to explore how individuals responsible for training and development in
organisations conceptualise development in practice, how decisions to invest are made,
how outcome success is measured and how effectiveness is judged. While we know
from the training effectiveness literature that motivation predicts training success (see
Colquitt et al., 2000), we lack comparable evidence for employee development.
To summarise, our review highlights that training and development are
conceptualised as being different by researchers (Warr, 2002; Laird, 1985; Fitzgerald,
1992). However, there is little research regarding the extent to which these differences
are endorsed and shared by people in organisations. For instance, there may be a limit
to the extent development can truly be self-led, engagement arguably being dependent
on the allocation of budgets, unless employees self-finance such activities in their own
time. Managers with relevant responsibility can play a vital role in employees’ training
and development where they identify needs and allocate resources, as well as accept
personal responsibility to encourage employees to participate in activities and support
them to transfer developed skills (Reid and Barrington, 1994). Survey evidence
suggests these managers are considered “very important” to supporting both training
and development activities in organisations (Chartered Institute of Personnel and
Development, 2007), although a fifth of respondents also indicated that managers may
not take this issue seriously. Given that a recent survey of training managers in the UK
commissioned by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) revealed that few
expected their budgets to remain unaffected by the recession, the majority having
already experienced budget cuts (Kingston, 2009), this decrease in funding lends
urgency to investigating how needs are identified and resources allocated.
Consequently, we took a qualitative approach rooted in critical realism (Willig,
2001). Whilst our methods were qualitative, our starting point was the above review of
the literature, which revealed that theories as espoused by the literature may not
necessarily be reflected in organisational practice. A realist stance takes the position
that qualitative approaches can uncover shared perceptions of reality, and thus if
research is conducted with integrity, allow generalisations to other populations. A
critical realist perspective goes one step further by using the interpretation of data to
subsequently question and revise theories that have guided the research. We
interviewed managers to investigate their conceptualisations of training and
development, with particular focus on the factors guiding decision making, and how
success is evaluated in their organisational realities. To this end, our research
questions are:

How do managers define and conceptualise development and training in


What factors guide managers’ training and development decisions?


How do managers evaluate outcomes for training and development?


To what extent do managers perceive a relationship between training and

While some evidence exists that underlines the importance of the role of the manager
responsible for such decisions, to our knowledge no qualitative study has not
investigated in the UK context what managers’ perceptions are, and in particular what
guides their decision making.

Sample and recruitment procedure
As our aim was to investigate the above research questions in depth through a
qualitative approach, rather than survey a statistically representative population, we
recruited a purposive sample (Silverman, 2000) of 26 managers (16 male, ten female,
aged between 28 and 59) from 20 different UK organisations. These were drawn from a
UK database, and we ensured that our sample comprised both the public sector (local
authorities, the emergency services, education) and different private-sector industry
sectors (including finance, retail and publishing). The organisations were contacted via
an invitation letter or e-mail outlining the purposes of our research and inviting
participants who fitted our inclusion criteria to put themselves forward. These were
that managers had responsibility for identifying development and training needs in
employees, were making decisions on taking appropriate action (such as
recommending attendance of a particular course or activity following a staff
appraisal) and had been making such decisions for a period exceeding six months. The
nature of managerial responsibilities in our final sample varied from senior managers
(with active line management for up to 50 staff) to those with responsibility for
specialist training and development functions. It was ascertained at the outset of each
interview that these criteria were met, and that managers had relevant authority such
as being able to agree budgets. The sample was sought to represent a range of
contemporary experiences of those employees critical (Patton, 2002) to managing
training and development. All managers were sent a short information sheet outlining
the nature of the research in advance via e-mail. The interviews were conducted during
work-time by telephone, thereby allowing participants to be recruited from
geographically dispersed locations, at a mutually agreed time in order to ensure
minimal disruption. As the interviews were not face-to-face, particular care was taken
at the beginning of each interview to corroborate the inclusion criteria for each
participant, but also to allow time for questions on part of the interviewee to ensure a
good rapport. Inevitably this was made difficult by the absence of non-verbal cues
offered by face-to-face interviews (Dillman, 2009). Each interview was recorded once
informed consent had been obtained and, subsequently, transcribed fully. All
participants were assured that their own identities and that of their organisations
would be anonymised, and received a summary of the findings upon request. We refer
to participants as “A”, “B”, “C”, etc., in the Results section and, to preserve anonymity,
we have also disguised the identity of each organisation.
Interview schedule
Interviews lasted approximately 45 minutes and consisted of semi-structured,
open-ended questions with follow-up probes focussing on managers’ definitions and
experiences in their work contexts. The interview schedule was constructed to map
onto our research questions; thus the broad headings were definitions of training and
development, decision-making, examples of outcome measures, and the
inter-relationship between training and development. When asking managers to
render their own definitions of training and development, and to indicate which
activities they would consider pertaining to each (if this distinction was meaningful), a
question pertaining to decision making was: “Under what circumstances or conditions
are [particular type of activity] most useful?”. A subsequent probe was: “What would

Conceptions of
training and



make you choose development rather than training activities, for a particular
employee?”. A full schedule is available from the first author on request.
The schedule was piloted with an opportunity sample of five managers, who
commented that our questions were clearly phrased and relevant. Despite this, while
conducting the first six interviews, it became apparent that participants found it much
easier to define and talk about training than development, these managers having to be
prompted on the latter. Subsequently the schedule was amended so participants were
asked and probed about development first in order to make this concept more salient.
All interviews were transcribed verbatim, retaining idiosyncratic expressions and
grammar. Following Poland’s (2002) recommendations, words that were emphasised in
the conversation are capitalised, pauses in the text are indicated with (. . .), and, where
participants were citing others, this was indicated with single parentheses.
Template analysis
The transcripts were analysed using template analysis (TA; King, 2004) to code the
data. Data were analysed from a realist perspective, thereby enabling the initial coding
phase to be guided by the research questions. The defining feature of TA is that a set of
meaningful themes (first-level codes that are applied throughout the data and
interpreted as being relevant to the research questions) and codes (labels that are
attached to the data) are applied to parts of the data set and revised as necessary. This
facilitates a holistic approach, rather than considering one theme or code at a time.
Adopting King’s (2004) guidelines, coding was undertaken in a hierarchical manner,
using the meaningful themes to encompass successively narrower and more specific
second- and third-level codes. Whilst there is little guidance about determining
non-probabilistic sample sizes, work by Guest et al. (2006) demonstrated that basic
elements (meaningful themes or first-level codes) can typically be identified after
analyzing approximately six interviews; this number also formed the basis of our
initial analysis. Our preliminary template showed that managers differentiated
conceptually between training and development, since more differences than links or
overlap appeared. We subsequently used this template to analyse all remaining
transcripts through a process of constant revision: definitions were refined, new codes
added and redundant codes removed, more salient themes being moved to higher-level
codes and less salient themes to lower-level codes as the analysis progressed. This
process continued until no new codes emerged from the data. Although relatively few
alterations to the template were made after 13 interviews had been coded, we reached
“saturation” (Patton, 2002) when 19 interviews were analysed in full, the analysis of the
remaining seven interviews also resulting in no additional changes to the coding.
Throughout this process, we debated the codes used as a reflective process to ensure
that coding was rooted in the data, rather than influenced by our individual biases and
In line with Brown and Clarke (2006), the emphasis of our analysis was on
meaningful coding and making links between the interpretations of the themes, rather
than reducing the data to frequencies. This is illustrated in Table II where, for the
first-level theme “Links between training and development”, respective second-level
codes were “Intertwined functionality”, defined as “training and development are
commonly administered by the same functions”, and “Combined effectiveness”,

First level (meaningful theme)

Second level (codes)

Third level (sub-codes)

2. Links between training and

2.1 Intertwined

2.1.1 Training and development
addressed by same department
2.1.2 Training and development
addressed by same person
2.1.3 Managers don’t think about them as
being different, as addressed by same
2.2.1 Development builds on training
(training has to come first)
2.2.2 Development applies learning from
training course (“chewing over and
2.2.3 Training without development is
less valuable
2.2.4 Training can be one process that
feeds into development; in other words,
training as a process, development as the

2.2 Combined

defined as “the two activities are considered to work better if used in tandem”.
Third-level codes summarised these themes in more detail.
The final template comprised seven first-level (meaningful) themes, which we
outline and use to structure the findings discussed below. These are integrated with
quotes from participants, selected as they are particularly pertinent illustrations of
particular points made. While the focus of our analysis was across participants, to elicit
shared themes we also highlight where we encountered differing perspectives.
Our first section, “Conceptualisations of training and development”, discusses the
meaningful themes “definitions of training and development”, “differences between
training and development” and the “process of learning in training and in
development” to address our first research question. The second and third sections
map directly onto the themes “training and development decisions” and “evaluation of
outcomes”, and our second and third research questions. Our last section, “Relationship
between training and development”, considers our final research question using the
themes “links between training and development” and “success factors”.
Conceptualisations of training and development
All participants viewed development as broader than training, focussing upon the
person rather than the job. Participant A, a middle manager from the emergency
services, summarised this:
I think development is for me [. . .] I think training as one for the job.

Training was about the provision of courses to meet specific needs, whereas
development was perceived as long-term, and occurred as part of individuals’ progress

Conceptions of
training and

Table II.
Example meaningful
theme and corresponding
codes from the final


in their job. A typical quote from Participant B, a senior manager in the media
industry, was:
[. . .] training I would describe as a specific programme to address specific needs, development
I would describe ultimately as the sort of long-term change in an individual as they work
towards a specific target.


About a third of managers considered that development went beyond the current job
and linked with employees’ personal life, whereas training always remained confined
to the job. Two managers, Participant D from the private sector and Participant E from
the public sector, used the example of learning how to drive a car. Each likened
training to the initial process of learning to drive, and development to taking an
advanced driver course, in which acquired skills were honed and practiced to a deeper
As an example, I suppose driver training you need to learn how to drive the car and that’s
your training but then you go onto develop those skills further to become an advanced driver
(Participant D).

Training was seen by about a quarter of managers as a means for development; in
other words training was a process and one available mechanism to support an
individual’s development, development being the outcome and an umbrella term.
Participant B commented:
Training I would see as something that FEEDS into development, I would not say that they
are different [. . .] ultimately, training feeds into long-term development.

This suggests a link between training and development, as explained by a Participant F,
a senior manager from the private sector:
Development I would see as something that is a sort of ongoing development, many things
feed into development. One of the things that may feed into development is training. I see
training as a specific thing that is done to address either a specific need or a long-term need.
Whereas development is something that can be down to a person’s day-to-day job, which
ultimately should be developing them, if that makes sense. Training I would describe as a
specific programme to address specific needs, development I would describe ultimately as the
sort of long-term change in an individual as they work towards a specific target.

Despite general agreement that development and training were linked, managers
differentiated between them according to the practical aspects. Training was seen as
skills-based, technical and focused on the current job, whereas development was seen
as wider-ranging and relating to interpersonal skills; mirroring the definitions of Warr
(2002) and Laird (1985) considered earlier. There was agreement that training was
always planned and formal whereas development activities could, in addition, be ad
hoc, unplanned, sporadic and informal. In approximately half of interviews,
development entailed a career-related element focussing upon a change in the
person’s duties, such as a move into a different job role, department or a promotion. In
contrast, training referred to the present, was considered to be confined to a particular
time period, and had a distinct beginning and end; development was directed to the
future, remained ongoing, and was open-ended.
Training was provided by the organisation through internal or external training
courses, which were either generic or tailored to specific requirements. Participants

noted several ways for providing development. The majority highlighted how it could
be provided or initiated by the line manager, while nearly half cited a collaborative
approach that built on two-way communication. This approach to development was
explained by Participant G, a manager for an IT team in the financial industry as:

Conceptions of
training and

. . . and the ones that come out as being most successful are a need that’s been identified by
the individual as well as by the manager, rather than just the manager has decided “you need


This suggests that while the motivation for development has to come from the
individual, and is in line with the paradigm of new careers (Arthur and Rousseau,
1996), development may not necessarily be as self-led as implied by the literature, with
some managers playing a pivotal role. This has implications for practice, which we will
return to in our discussion, as given the importance of such managers for
decision-making processes, it is necessary to ensure that this is actively considered in
the overall organisational strategy.
Managers were asked directly which activities they perceived as pertaining to
training, and which ones to development. While there was clear agreement regarding
most activities, such as formal courses being training, and shadowing or secondments
being development, there was also some dissonance. Some aspects of their responses
contradicted classifications prevalent in the literature (Maurer and Tarulli, 1994;
Maurer et al., 2003). In particular, approximately a third of managers argued that in
their organisations the distinction was based on content, automatically labelling any
activity concerned with discrete skill improvement as training and any activity to do
with “soft” (people) skills as development. Others (a quarter) differentiated by degree of
structure, arguing that, for instance, staff appraisals or 360-degree feedback were
considered training rather than development, due to their high degree of structure and
pre-planning. This indicates that training and development activities are perhaps not
as clearly differentiated by managers as the literature suggests, and that individual
perceptions may be organisation-dependent.
Training and development decisions
Decisions to support training or development appeared contingent on employees’ level
in relation to their job. Where employees were lacking key skills, they received training
to equip them to perform in their current job. Once an employee had been trained and
the focus was outside her or his current job role, development activities were
considered more appropriate. Activity choice appeared dependent on the nature of
objectives set. For clear and measurable objectives (such as gaining specific technical
skills) training was chosen, whereas if objectives were more widely focussed such as
needing to learn about a different area of the business, development (often involving
shadowing or mentoring) was considered more appropriate. Participant H, a manager
from an educational environment summarized the decision as:
I think they’re different. I think for training it’s a question of having the skills and the
knowledge to do the job that they’re doing now and making sure that performance is at a
reasonable level . . . once they’ve got their tool-bag fairly healthily full up with the training
they need to do, then I would consider developmental training, on secondments and things
like that.


Over half the participants, and in particular those with specialist responsibility for
training and development, argued that when making decisions, training usually took
precedence over development since training had demonstrable benefits to the
organisation that were more easily quantifiable. The preference for training was
illustrated by Participant I, a manager from the services industry, who commented:


I think the actual training course would always take precedence over maybe a more esoteric
development course [. . .]. If you’re spending money on training then there’s GOT to be some
demonstrable return for the company to make that investment. That there are going to be
demonstrable benefits coming back to the company for spending that money.

Such preferences for training were, in general, linked to organisational requirements to
address skill shortages, as a matter of priority, resulting in development activities
being given less priority, Participant I continued:
If it was something that, a change, a person literally couldn’t perform their job without going,
quite often that will happen as well, the legislative changes and that kind of thing. So
basically I think that training sometimes would come out as the higher priority, if there was a
need of that kind, so if there was very poor performance I think training would have to. So I
think [. . .] development can sometimes be secondary.

However, Participant J, a senior manager from the finance industry, disagreed with the
apparent precedence given to training, commenting that a focus on more interpersonal
aspects, taking a “coaching approach”, was considerably more valuable to his
I think it varies a lot; it really depends on the individual and the circumstances. My own view
is that coaching and that sort of personal one-on-one development is more useful than
standard courses. Sometimes you just have to do standard courses but very often the
outcomes of spending one-on-one time with someone, or one-on-two, or whatever it is, as long
as they are prepared to do it are far more useful, a much better use of our time and our money.

Despite this expressed preference for more informal, one-to-one discussions with
employees, this manager’s view was qualified by “as long as they are prepared to do it”.
Similar comments from other participants in relation to development support research
regarding the importance of employees’ motivation as a prerequisite for successful
training outcomes (Colquitt et al., 2000). In summary preference was usually given to
training due to its demonstrable benefits, in particular with regard to addressing skill
shortages. The requirement of demonstrable benefits was also important in development
decisions. However individual motivation appeared more crucial for development than
training decisions. In this, then, there is a potential paradox that needs to be addressed
which has implications for practice. On the one hand, managers in this sample played an
active role, but on the other hand expected a level of motivation from employees for any
activity to be supported. In order to be fair and transparent and promote organisational
justice, it would be important to make this explicit and transparent from the outset in
negotiation and consultation with employees, so that they knew what was expected.
Evaluation of outcomes
In line with our findings relating to definitions and decisions, there was agreement
from all participants that evaluation of training outcomes focussed upon
improvements to specific job-related skills. As suggested by the literature (Skinner,

2004) these included observable behaviour changes subsequent to the training, which
would later be transferred to the job. These were considered straightforward to
measure, visible and linked to clear objectives. In contrast, development outcomes were
considered to be more varied, and likely to extend over a longer time period.
Consequently, they would not be immediately visible following engagement in an
activity. Participant K, A public sector manager, summarised this in a typical response:
(. . .) less easily measured, of a longer-term nature, in other words you don’t go to another
course to develop your interpersonal skills and come back with them wonderfully developed.
It’s something that you build up and develop over a period of time I think.

Development outcomes were considered private to the individual by most participants,
coaching for example being highlighted as a confidential process, rendering any
outcomes less tangible, open to interpretation and difficult to measure. As suggested in
the literature (McDowall and Mabey, 2008), the majority of participants perceived
development outcomes as future-directed and open-ended. As a result, they were
considered potentially difficult to evaluate longitudinally; individuals’ insights into
their strengths and weaknesses, and therefore their personal goals, being likely to alter
during a development process. Participant J offered an illustration that typified
comments made by several participants, highlighting how goals might alter during the
development process:
. . . and I think it’s quite difficult to do even longitudinally because you could ask somebody at
the beginning of something “how do you feel about such and such” and they might say “well I
feel OK” but then having gone through the process and seeing themselves develop, they say
“well I didn’t even”, sometimes people don’t even know realise what their gaps are until they
try something. [. . .] If you think about the evaluation of development I think it’s got to be
more qualitative [. . .] it’s got to be more subjective, because that’s the very nature of
development it’s the person who takes from the opportunity what they need.

This observation from one of our participants concurs with our earlier discussion
drawing on Warr (2002), that experimental evaluation studies prevalent in the training
literature are difficult, if not inappropriate, to apply to the evaluation of development
activities, as due to their long-term nature the parameters can be subject to constant
Relationship between training and development
As highlighted in our earlier discussion of definitions, managers argued that
combining training with development resulted in more positive outcomes. Participant
L, a services manager with responsibility for training illustrated this, outlining how her
organisation had achieved great success where an under-performing employee who
underwent specific external training course, which was accompanied by coaching from
a more experienced co-worker, helping her to embed the learning in the workplace:
You know, this really made the difference. Following things up, talking it through, and
getting a helping hand from someone more experienced.

This illustration, typical of those offered by the majority of participants, indicated how
behaviour change resulting from training might be transferred more successfully if
supported through development activities and support in the immediate work
environment. Such activities were argued to create, or at least contribute to, a more

Conceptions of
training and



conducive transfer climate, a factor which the training literature has identified as
particularly important for success (Rouiller and Goldstein, 1993; Tracey et al., 2001).
The matching of training to recipients’ needs and abilities was highlighted as a
contributory factor to training success by the majority of participants. Effective
trainers who related to their audience, along with provision of practical on the job
applications and the resulting transfer of learning, were considered crucial, this being
congruent with Kirkpatrick’s (1959) model and its derivatives. In contrast, for
development, managers argued that success was linked to individuals’ motivation,
their “buy in” to the process, their openness about what needed to be changed, and
willingness to stretch themselves ”out of their comfort zone”. This was typified by a
Participant M, a public sector manager, who commented:
I think with development you are going to get nothing unless the person is really open to
taking, to seizing an opportunity.

Findings from our data are, to some extent, consistent with the literature reviewed earlier
in that they confirm training and development are perceived as different. However
participants also argued that some activities were not easily distinguished, for instance
when training encompasses a long-term developmental element, or conversely where
activities seen typically as development, are structured and training-like in format.
Different foci for training and development appeared to guide managers’
decision-making. Where an employee needed job-specific skills, or was
under-performing in their current job, training was preferred. Where employees were
ready to move beyond the current role, or where there was a need to enhance interpersonal
skills, development activities, such as secondments or coaching, were favoured.
Our participants provided additional insights regarding the impact of linking training
and development activities, the role of managers in encouraging and supporting
individuals’ training and development, the influence of measurable return on investment
in decision making and the importance of employee motivation as a prerequisite for
development success. It is to these (summarized in Table III) that we now turn.
Managers with responsibility for training and development decisions perceived
training and development as inter-linked, training being one of the mechanisms that
could lead to and support development. Participants highlighted how specific training
was perceived to be more effective when undertaken in conjunction with individual
coaching that supported the transfer of learning back into the workplace. This we
interpreted as a dominant theme in the analysis that “training feeds into development”.
Building on this, a minority of managers interviewed felt directly responsible for
individuals’ development as well as their training, commenting that this was something
they actively provide for their staff. This indicates that, from a managerial point of view,
it may be unrealistic to assume that development activities are as self-led as the literature
would advocate (e.g. Hall, 1996). Whilst these managers described their role in relation to
training as meeting established business needs, this was rarely the case with regard to
development. Rather, they considered that their role was to encourage and nurture those
employees who were prepared to commit to their own development.
Our findings highlighted that managers’ perceived the lack of demonstrable return
on such investment as a potential barrier for employees to engage in a number of


Implications for research

Training and development work Necessity for process-driven
research that investigates what
best when conceptualised and
implemented as a linked process processes contribute to the
effectiveness of linked activities
Research needs to address the
Development might not
potentially differing effects of
necessarily be as self-led as
implied by the literature, some mandatory and voluntary
managers here purported to play activity from a systems
perspective, rather than the
a pivotal role
individual perspective alone
Need for different “metrics” to
Managerial preference and
decision making emphasise the determine return on investment
for development
importance of a measurable
return on investment

An individual’s motivation to
develop is a prerequisite for
development success

Implications for practice
Need to embed training and
learning activities into
organisational strategy
Expectations regarding the
contribution of different parties
to development and training
processes need to be made
explicit and negotiated upfront

Organisations need to provide
both managers and employees
with support and guidance for
decision making to ensure that
employees are given adequate
access to all types of
development and training
Need to understand whether this Organisations need to make
motivation construct may map active steps to understand
individual “drive factors”
on to existing measures and
constructs or whether there are
unique features that merit
different measures to capture

wide-ranging development activities. In apparent contrast to evidence in the UK
(Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2007), managers with a HR role
favoured training over development, the latter’s outcomes being construed as less
clear. Managers considered that training outcomes were visible and quantifiable, and
could be measured through improvements such as skill levels on the job. In contrast,
development outcomes were felt to be largely subjective, private to the individual, and
not necessarily linked to specific objectives. Where managers were unable to quantify a
development activity’s value, they were less likely to support it or allocate resources.
From the managers’ perspective, employees’ motivation to develop and their
willingness to stretch themselves beyond what they were currently doing and to move
out of their comfort zone were important prerequisites for success of development
activities. In contrast to training, where the impetus came from the organisation,
managers considered the impetus for development should come from the individual.
Within this, they recognised that learning was likely to occur at least in part through
interaction with and support from others.
Implications for research
While our findings highlight the inter-relationship between training and development,
and for some managers an associated developmental role, further research is required
to explore this. Although some research has indicated that combining activities appears
to be related to successful outcomes; for instance, 360-degree feedback appears to result

Conceptions of
training and

Table III.
New insights from the



in slightly more effective goal setting and execution if followed up by executive coaching
(Smither et al., 2005), but this is limited. In particular, there is therefore a need for
process-driven research that adopts a formative perspective exploring how combining
training and development activities further learning. Adopting a mixed-methods
approach to provide quantitative measures and inform understanding, such research
could consider whether specific training activities are best followed by particular
development processes, and the conditions under which particular combinations are
successful. Training and development activities do not happen in isolation in
organisations, and such research needs to acknowledge this complexity.
Explicit within our research findings is the need to develop methods of evaluation
that not only encompass training but also subsequent broader development activities.
These should consider different perspectives to elucidate the impact of the individual,
her or his manager, the HR professional responsible for training and development, and
contextual factors on learning. One way of achieving this might be through formative
evaluations (Brown and Gerhardt, 2002). Relevant case studies from the literature
might subsequently aid practitioners to develop bespoke evaluation techniques that go
beyond those currently in use (Skinner, 2004). While writers such as Boudreau and
Ramstad (1998) argue the need to place emphasis on linked processes, we postulate
that psychological approaches also have value to add by helping us to understand “soft
intangible factors” such as individual differences. Our research suggests that
quantitative approaches to evaluating development are likely to be incomplete or even
misleading, as envisaged goals and outcomes (e.g. a promotion or a potential career
change) are likely to alter during the process, being at least partially dependent on
factors outside the individual’s control. There is therefore a need to further
understanding of how development outcomes can be measured and evaluated at the
individual level, traditional experimental designs and related measures being perhaps
too narrow and short-term in focus to capture the richness and time-span involved.
To date, limited research has concerned itself with the longitudinal aspects of
personal development plans, despite by nature there being working documents that are
subject to constant revision and change. This renders long-term evaluation difficult. A
thorough investigation of such development plans may help us to understand what
makes them effective, alongside what and how much support from the manager and
other involved stakeholders is expected, and ultimately is useful. Whilst the managers
we interviewed felt that it was up to the individual to take responsibility for
development, they also highlighted the importance of their support for employees to
engage in these activities. Research therefore needs to explore the roles such managers
play in development, how these can be best facilitated, and the potential pitfalls.
Approaches such as the change paradigm, originally applied in the context of
evaluating therapeutic interventions, to determine affective change events in this
context (Rice and Greenberg, 1984) might usefully be adapted to facilitate our
understanding of at what point and under what conditions development is facilitated in
discussions between manager and employee.
Implications for practice
Differences between managers and researchers in their conceptualisations of
training and development suggest potential difficulties in research findings being
translated into practice due, not least, to alternative understandings. Whilst this

factor has already been recognised in the literature on the relevance of management
research (e.g. Cohen, 2007), it provides further evidence of potential barriers to
ensuring practice implications are recognised as such by practitioners.
Notwithstanding this issue, we consider the research outlined has important
implications for practice.
Within organisations the potential for differences between HR managers’ and line
managers’ implicit theories regarding the relative value of training and development
suggest the possibility of conflicting advice and less than optimal results. If training
and development are to be effective, both groups need to understand the purpose and
agree their value to the organisation. The results also showed that managers may have
quite different understandings of development processes, as they seem to take a more
involved role than the literature suggests, and they expect a great deal of motivation to
be demonstrated on the part of the employee for them to consider development further.
There are several implications arising from this. First, the role of the managers
responsible for individuals’ training and development decisions needs to be considered
actively in an overall training and development strategy, as they appear to have a key
role in fostering a good learning climate. Secondly, it is important that any
expectations are made explicit and transparent, thereby adhering to principles of
organisational justice. This will allow employees to play a role, and to be more
committed and more satisfied with the process (McDowall and Fletcher, 2004). Lastly,
the differences in perceptions highlight another implication, which is the need to
demonstrate the value of both training and development activities to the organisation.
While we have already alluded to this in our discussion of implications for research,
there is a need for practical relevant evaluation techniques that encompass both
training and development activities.
Such new evaluation techniques need to take into account another practice
implication of this research – i.e. that training appears more valuable when supported
by subsequent long-term development. This also highlights a need for organisations to
integrate training and development activities into a coherent long-term strategy.
Linked to this, our research reveals how managers may take a direct role in the
development of employees, indicating a requirement for their training and
development where this occurs. Without this there is a possibility that the allocation
of training and development opportunities, and relevant budgets, might become
dependent on (inappropriate) subjective preferences.
Our data inevitably convey a particular group of managers’ perspectives in one
country (the UK) and experiences of other employees and managers in other
contexts may differ. Although based on only 26 individuals, these managers’
responses provide clear insights into differing perspectives on training and
development across 20 organisations. Representing professions in both public and
private sector organisations, their expressed preferences for training, due to its
measurability, might to some extent be a sampling artefact as participants included
professions where self-initiated long-term professional training is the norm.
However, given the variety of sectors and professions included, we would argue that
these data provide valuable insights. The use of non-probability sampling means by
definition our data are not statistically representative. Yet the occurrence of data

Conceptions of
training and



saturation suggests that for such UK managers we have captured the breadth of
opinions. Inevitably our findings are dependent on the quality of our interpretation.
While the latter is by definition subjective, our analytical process included a
constant process of checking, comparing and reflecting in our role as researchers. In
addition we checked our findings’ face validity with our participants to ensure these
findings were robustly grounded in the data. Consequently, we believe the insights
offered are both valid and useful.
Concluding remarks
In summary, our analysis highlights the importance of understanding managers’
implicit theories of training and development, as they have the power within their
organisations to approve or deny training and development. While development
appeared to be less easily justified through projected returns on investment, managers
acknowledged that training and development activities are more effective if combined
and thus fundamentally interlinked processes. In particular, training was understood
to yield the best return in terms of sustainability of learning if supported thereafter by
pertinent development activities. Although there is some research that, for instance,
investigates the transfer climate for training (Tracey et al., 1995; Bates and
Khasawneh, 2005; Burke and Hutchins, 2007), the perceived value of combined
processes, where development is used to support the transfer and further consolidation
of learning achieved in training, is less well understood. Future studies might initially
take a formative, rather than summative approach, using mixed-methods approaches
to inform our understanding as there is little or no extant theory to guide research and
practice for linked processes. Investigation of the success factors for such process is
important (Skinner, 2004) particularly at the present time, where due to the current
economic climate organisations are cutting back rather than investing in training
(Kingston, 2009).
Our research highlights the importance of management support to the success of
development activities. While it was acknowledged that employees have to be motivated
for development to be effective, development was not perceived as an entirely
self-initiated and self-managed process. Managers were clear that meaningful
development could not take place within organisations unless it was supported.
Accordingly, we propose that future research should consider both the role of the
manager and the social context as well as individual motivational factors with particular
reference to how these facilitate development. Building from this argument, there is then
also a need to consider managers more actively in the fostering of an overall
organisational culture that supports learning through training and development in a
more strategic HR context. While research in the domain has been lamented as
atheoretical (Tannenbaum and Yukl, 1992), the findings of our research highlight a need
for theory building aspects that focus upon how training and development are
interlinked, rather than concentrating on the distinctions between activities, and the role
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About the authors
Almuth McDowall (BSc, MSc, PhD, CPsychol) is a Lecturer in individual differences in the
Psychology Department at the University of Surrey. Her research interests are training,
development and coaching in the workplace, work-life balance and individual differences and
cross-cultural aspects in personnel assessment. Almuth McDowall is the corresponding author
and can be contacted at:
Mark N.K. Saunders (BA, MSc, PGCE, PhD, FCIPD) is Professor in Business Research
Methods at the University of Surrey School of Management. His research interests include
human resource aspects of the management of change, trust, organisational justice and research
methods. His research findings have been published in a range of academic and practitioner
journals. Recent books include Organizational Trust: A Cultural Perspective (2010, Cambridge
University Press) co-edited with Denise Skinner, Nicole Gillespie, Graham Dietz and Roy
Lewicki, and Research Methods for Business Students (2009, FT Prentice-Hall) co-authored with
Phil Lewis and Adrian Thornhill.

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